Colleagues: Ward always hardworking, community-focused

Colleagues: Ward always hardworking, community-focused

Breeze Publisher Tom Ward in his office at 1985 Mendon Road in Cumberland, circa 2000, with his collection of clocks showing the time in various Breeze communities.

CUMBERLAND – Tom Ward’s vision in 1995 to create a weekly community paper covering the towns of Cumberland and Lincoln helped change the lives of those who trusted his idea and jumped on board at the beginning.

And a quarter-century later, as Ward officially retires from the company he built from the living room in his Cumberland home, those same people remember him as a hardworking, generous family man who cares deeply not only about the newspaper but about the communities it serves.

“I feel lucky to have met Tom and trusted him, and my life changed because of it,” said James Quinn, deputy publisher of The Valley Breeze, who met Ward when they both worked at The Herald News in Fall River, Mass. “This journey was not what I anticipated it to be.” For former Editor Marcia Green, who retired in 2017 after leading the paper’s news effort from the start, said Ward “was a hugely important person in my life,” she said. “He really changed my life in a very positive way and provided an outlet for me.”

Green, who previously worked as city editor for The Pawtucket Times, said that Ward provided her with a wonderful job that allowed her to be an editor and continue to write, which is what she loved to do.

Quinn, Green, and Controller Barbara Phinney, who’s also been with the paper since the beginning, all agreed that Ward knew what he was doing during those early planning days.When Ward showed up at Green’s home one Saturday morning in 1995, she listened as he pitched his idea to create a weekly paper for Cumberland and Lincoln that would expand on stories that the daily papers were covering by providing more information for the community and include feature stories and highlight real estate.

“It was a smart idea,” Green said, one that established them in the community. “You don’t find local weekly papers with the kind of integrity and comprehensiveness as The Breeze.”
While she supported Ward’s idea, she said, “I wasn’t going to start a weekly paper. At the time when he first started I thought he was crazy.” But very quickly the community began reaching out and “the whole thing worked.”

“He had a great vision,” Phinney said, noting that Ward was in the right place at the right time with a good team behind him.

“He created something I never would have expected,” Green said. “He is extremely lucky. We’ve always said that about him.”When they first launched the newspaper, though he was the publisher, Ward did just about everything, Quinn and Green recalled, from selling ads, securing places to put the papers and delivering them, taking photos, editing articles, and even cleaning the office at night.

“He did deliveries for a long time as I recall,” Green said. “Tom was extremely hardworking.”

Ward has always been driven to make sure everything was done right, Phinney said. When the company first started, he would regularly go out after hours to check on and neaten up the newspaper racks and talk to people, something he’s continued to do to his retirement.“He always went above and beyond,” she said. “His work ethic is what made the company successful.”

Because he believes you don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression, Quinn said, Ward always wanted to make sure the product was as accurate and perfect as possible.

“For the rest of his life he’ll straighten up racks,” Phinney said.

When she thinks of Ward, the word “fair” comes to mind, Phinney said. He always took care of his employees and was fair to his customers. “He’s always been fair to everyone,” she said. “He thinks about other people. … He does the right thing for people.”

“He was always extremely good to people,” Green agreed. “He was always just a nice boss.”

Ward always valued family time, going home to have dinner every night, even if it meant going back to the office afterward, Quinn said, and he also valued his employees’ private time. Community has also always been important to Ward. Any local organization that’s asked for a sponsor or donation has
usually received one, Phinney said, and The Breeze has sponsored athletic teams.

“He was quietly generous,” Quinn said. “He didn’t necessarily expect a pat on the back. … The helping was more important than recognition.”

Since retiring, Green said she misses Ward and wishes him well in his own retirement. In addition to spending time with his grandchildren, she said she hopes he travels and takes photographs. “That’s what got him into journalism in the first place,” she said.

“He will be deeply missed and I appreciate having had the opportunity to work for him all these years,” Phinney said. “I’ve always been very proud to say I work for The Valley Breeze.”

Publisher Tom Ward, far right, and his Valley Breeze team in their office at 1985 Mendon Road in Cumberland, getting ready to move to their next office at 2190 Mendon Road, circa 2004. Also pictured, from left, are Controller Barbara Phinney, Deputy Publisher James Quinn, and now-retired Editor Marcia Green. 
This Valley Breeze bumper sticker was part of one of the first contests the company hosted in the late 1990s/early 2000s in which staff members would spot the stickers, jot down license plate numbers, and award prizes.